IN THE SPOTLIGHT ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Maria Nakamura on how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted co-working spaces

Maria Nakamura joined Arcc Spaces as Business Innovation Manager, before taking up a role as Head of Operations. She holds a bachelor degree in Hospitality Management from Murdoch University, Australia; and a master’s degree in Teaching Business/Economics from Australian Catholic University.


How has the use of spaces at Arcc Spaces changed since the outbreak?

Due to the current Coronavirus situation, the uncertainties have led to more enquiries in the last few weeks. We have seen SMEs and enterprises considering flexible workplace options due to flexible leasing terms. Also, they can move to another Arcc Spaces centre if there is a chance of one being temporarily closed down.

In flexible workplaces, businesses are able to take advantage of splitting their teams across multiple small private rooms, as opposed to occupying one large combined space.

Recently, we rolled out a sanctuary plan with different packages to individuals, SMEs and enterprises who may need immediate workstations to support their business needs. We have three clients with headcounts of up to 20 employees who have decided to split their operations across our centre and their existing office space. They are mainly in the finance and technology industries, and are seeking to avoid business disruption should their existing workplace be temporarily closed down; hence are using our spaces as a flexible back-up.

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What are the longer-term impacts of COVID-19 or similar pandemic situations on the co-working business model? 

Flexible workplaces will continue to grow due to uncertainties in the market. Unlike traditional offices, service providers like Arcc Spaces offer flexible lease terms and access to other centres in case of disruption to some of our spaces. Also, with ready-to-use spaces, furniture, amenities, customer services and high-speed Internet, members can start working immediately by bringing their own laptops. With flexible lease terms, companies can expand or trim quickly to meet their business needs.

Although remote working is popular, some industries require high security and privacy to protect their data and network. As such, remote working such as from homes or a café is not always suitable. Through our partnership with Cisco Meraki, Arcc Spaces provides high security, reliability and privacy to our members. In terms of security, the system adheres to PCI Data Security Standards, helping customers to build and maintain a secured network to protect data, maintain vulnerability management programmes, implement strong access control measures, and monitor network security.

Working in packed offices, however, does increase the chance of getting an infection. Arcc Spaces provides our members the option of splitting their teams across multiple small private rooms, working in common co-working areas, or at different centres that are closer to their homes.

How do you overcome the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Arcc Spaces has come up with short-term initiatives to help companies affected by work disruptions. Three weeks ago, it rolled out The Arcc Sanctuary Plan, which was designed to help companies whose office spaces have been shut down temporarily but still need a business space for operations to continue running.

The plan enables some companies to reserve a temporary workspace in their Singapore or Hong Kong locations, relocating staff within one business day when a disruptive event occurs. Flexible contractual terms are also available for a part of the cost of a standard office lease, providing greater flexibility for a company to resume their operations as soon as possible.

The initiative has already attracted more than approximately 20 enquiries from different companies that need between 20 to 100 workstations. Other short-term initiatives the company has also launched include virtual office packages; and in selected cases, we also offer not only lower monthly rentals for some tenants, but also add a couple of months to the end-of-the-lease term.

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Has access to the offices been limited or changed because of the outbreak?

Access to our shared offices remains the same as before, with the additional measure of temperature screening. Access for guests is conditional on compulsory submission of travel and health declaration forms. Tenants have been informed to update us if they have visited any of the affected cities in China; and if they have symptoms such as fever, coughing or flu. Anyone with these symptoms will be declined entry until they have sought medical attention. Any such cases are brought to the attention of our centre manager and the tenant company.

We have an advantage of owning our buildings at 75 High Street and Duxton Hill, which means we are able to control access, provide exclusive spaces to members, and maintain social distancing.

Have there been concerns from tenants about possible contact tracing in case any of the users of the offices are infected?

The perception of risk at our flexible workplaces is minimal due to our strict enforcement of health declaration forms and the safety measures we have put in place. Our top priority is to ensure a safe and clean workplace environment at all times, across all our spaces in the region.

Arcc Spaces has four centres in Singapore located at One Marina Boulevard, 75 High Street, Suntec City and Duxton Hill. If one centre has been shut down due to cases of infection, our members can use the spaces in other centres, which provides flexibility—unlike traditional offices. Also, as mentioned earlier, we have the advantage in owning our space at 75 High Street and Duxton Hill, which means we are able to control access and provide exclusive spaces to members.

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What measures that have been put in place in light of the virus outbreak?

Our members put their confidence in us to take all precautions necessary to ensure they feel safe in our spaces. We are requiring all reception staff to wear masks, with hand sanitisers being made available at all our receptions. Cleaners have been required to wear masks and gloves, which will be replaced when moving from one section to another for cleaning. Temperature screenings are carried out for all tenants entering our flexible workplaces, if not already done by the building management. We have increased the types of disinfectants used, as well as cleaning frequency of the pantry area, public spaces and meetings rooms.

Cups and cutlery have been replaced with disposable ones, though we are also encouraging tenants to bring their own to be more environmentally conscious. Food items in our pantry have been covered in protective packets and no uncovered food is allowed on open display. We have posted clear notifications in all our frequently-used spaces, such as meeting rooms, pantries and other communal areas, informing tenants and guests that they have been thoroughly disinfected. Travel and health declaration forms for all external visitors to the centre are being enforced. Finally, detailed safety measurements checklists are submitted daily to ensure all precautions are being met without exception.

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Have there been spatial changes in Arcc Spaces following the social distancing order from the government and health institutions?

We have displayed signage to inform of the 1-metre social distancing arrangement at all our spaces, including markings on the floor in front of the reception counter indicating the required 1-metre distancing. Staff at our reception are seated 1 metre apart. Our co-working and public spaces have been arranged to reflect this too.

In terms of managing a co-working facility, if you were to create a protocol to respond to an outbreak such as COVID-19 in the future, what would be the most important points to be made?

It is important to communicate early to internal and external stakeholders what the challenges are and what measures are being immediately implemented. Our learning points from the COVID-19 outbreak will serve as a playbook for similar future circumstances, should they arise. Everything discussed in this interview in terms of the measures implemented to protect our staff, tenants, investors and community would inform future protocols.

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